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Today is the most depressing day to work in media since yesterday

On mass layoffs and massive ennui

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On Wednesday, all the staffers at website The Messenger were booted out of Slack after reading a New York Times article saying their jobs were gone. Disgusting? Yes. Surprising? No. Media CEOs are about as caring as puppy mill owners, and their callousness has now become rote.

Talking about how much working in media sucks seems like a topic that should’ve run dry long ago, yet nearly every day—particularly since the start of this year—there’s compelling new evidence making it rife with relevance. 

After layoffs last week at the LA Times and Business Insider, and the complete annihilation of Sports Illustrated and Pitchfork, it started to feel like the dog days of the Trump administration when you weren’t sure how your brain could possibly absorb any new, bad information. It left me wondering, in the immortal words of Vincent Laguardia Gambini, “Is there any more shit we could pile on?”

Every day in media is like the end of an episode of America’s Next Top Model where the image of the person who was voted off disappears from the group photo—except the group photo originally had like, a million people in it and now it’s down to approximately five. 

It becomes more and more difficult to focus on your next big investigative story when new journalism refugees are continually joining the newsletter breadline. It often feels like there is no day but today, and covering anything beyond that is tempting fate. And so my drive to undertake more arduous, important investigative stories is often sublimated by my profound ennui.

With every mass layoff comes new competition for those of us who’ve already gone out on our own. And that comes with a mix of knowing empathy, and fear of a threat to the niche audience we’ve managed to carve out for ourselves. There’s certainly enough room on the internet for all of us, but the question becomes, how many of us will actually continue to be paid to hawk our wares?

Rusty Foster—a fellow Substack-to-beehiiv defector and publisher of the legendary newsletter Today in Tabs—wrote this a few months back:

But if I know one fact (and I do) it’s that there will always be people with no other interests or life skills except finding out what’s happening and writing it down. You can give them big paychecks, but it won’t make them work any faster. You can fire them, but it won’t make them work any less. The moneyfolk come and go from media for reasons I will never understand, but when they’re gone—when things look the most bleak—that’s when your true reporter goblins come out to play.

Well here I am, typing out my little posts from under a bridge (is that a troll? whatever) because it’s all I know how to do. But more importantly, it’s all I want to do. I’ve tried other stuff and I was bad at it and also hated it.

When I graduated journalism school during the peak of the 2009 financial crisis as everything was collapsing—including magazines and newspapers—I gave PR a try because it was literally the only job I could get. Actually, that’s a lie. It was a PR paid internship that, 18 months later, turned into an actual job. 

My client was Smuckers, but I didn’t work on JJP—that’s jams, jellies and preserves for the layfolk. I was part of a 15-person agency team that did campaigns for the Smuckers portfolio of brands, including Jif, Crisco, Folgers, Pillsbury (but only their baking mixes and NOT the crescent rolls) and Eagle sweetened condensed milk. During one of my performance reviews, a colleague noted that I wasn’t sufficiently enthusiastic or helpful at the Jif Most Creative Peanut Butter Sandwich Contest awards presentation. And you know what, Stephanie? You were absolutely right. Because I was miserable.

But before abandoning PR altogether I decided to see if it was the profession itself that made my soul leave my body or just that specific job. So I got a gig as a publicist at Buzzfeed, and it turns out it was definitely the profession in general. Add to that the fact that I was working at a media company where people were writing, I just wasn’t one of them. 

Once that job ended, I began a freefall like Don Draper in the open credits of Mad Men that arguably has never stopped. I tried my hand at political tech for a hot second, but that didn’t stick either. No, it always came back to stringing together my thoughts, writing them down, and putting them out into the world for people to criticize. And it makes this constant stream of bad news about The Media that much more distressing.

The only thing that keeps a flicker of fire burning in my belly is the knowledge that no matter what hedge fund bros or pharma magnates say, my job will always be necessary. People will always need information, they’ll always crave stories, and they’ll always want the gossip because we are nosey creatures by nature. 

Parker Malloy wrote on her site The Present Age last week:

There are a lot of people who think, “Oh, well, I don’t need the reporters at the L.A. Times! I’ve got my favorite TikTok guy!” and like, hey, where do people think their favorite TikTok people tend to get most of their information? From the big name, legit outlets. It’s all aggregation and remixes, basically.

This reminded me of a woman I met at a party recently who told me she’d had it with mainstream media. She said she and her husband were almost exclusively getting their news from this guy on Instagram who told the “real” truth about what was going on in foreign and domestic affairs. The messenger is often just as important as the message, but I wondered if she knew this guy was getting his information from mainstream media outlets? Or that he didn’t do any original reporting? I looked up his profile and found he had a depressing 300k followers. 

So what comes next? More collectives of independent writers, like Flaming Hydra? More worker-owned sites like Hell Gate and Defector? We’ll see! I’m at the point where I’m open to any and all possibilities which is a little scary, but perhaps a little exciting. We’re on the cusp of…something, and I and other writers get to play an active role in figuring out what the something is. 

Sometimes I still think there are “grown ups” figuring this out. Then I remember I am the grown ups.

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